Guest poster Chris-
I'd like to begin by saying that it's sad that it took the death of 27 people, mainly small children, in a fairly affluent Connecticut community to begin this discussion. The leading cause of death among African American youth aged 10-24 in this country is gunshot wounds but it seems that this is pretty much ignored in day to day life.
I'd like to offer some ideas but I'd like to talk about a couple of things that I am convinced would 1) have no effect on mass shootings and 2) be impossible to implement .
The first is the notion that somehow by restricting the sale of large quantities of ammunition there would be a decrease in mass shootings. To put it plainly there is zero evidence for this Idea. None of the mass shooters in US history have shot hundreds, yet alone thousands, of rounds of ammunition in their attacks.
The Columbine killers managed to fire about 150 rounds between the two of them. They killed 15 (including themselves) and injured 21. A single box of ammunition typically holds anywhere from 20-50 rounds. That means the Columbine killers essentially fired three boxes of ammunition. These shooting sprees, in all but the most extreme of circumstances, don't last more than a couple of minutes. After that the police have responded and they are shot or choose to kill themselves. One notable exception was the University of Texas tower shooting which lasted an hour and a half due to the shooter's location at the top of the tower.
Should all ammunition sales be reported and investigated? Should more than a certain amount be investigated? What would be the cutoff? Should we limit those with training and experience to a box of ammunition a month? I'd rather have qualified individuals practice regularly than force everyone who buys a gun to limit themselves to one box of ammunition a month.
Which agency would investigate ammunition sales? It would take one with thousands of employees.
More realistically, perhaps we could require that people who buy ammunition have an ID card that shows they have met minimum training standards and meet qualifications. This would be doable and could be administrated on a county, state or national level. I'd be willing to provide my credentials in order to purchase the amount of ammunition I shoot each year, roughly 5,000-7,000 rounds.
Another idea is that it would be feasible to ban and confiscate all "assault weapons". Confiscation is not only implausible, it's quite arguably impossible. How would we go about it? Who would do the confiscation? The best approach is to change attitudes about ownership and responsibility and create a standard for ownership which I'll discuss in greater detail below.
Now I'd like to share what I think are some good suggestions.
First and most importantly, we need a serious conversation about mental health in this country. The Connecticut shooter was an obviously disturbed young man who claimed to be an anarchist and whose mother had multiple firearms in the house which were not secured so as to make them inaccessible to him. If my son had similar issues the very least I would do would be to have the weapons locked up in a real gun safe to which only I knew the combination. (This is something I believe all gun owners should do anyway.) Was he being treated by a mental health professional? Was he on medication? If the answers are no, why not? And why would a responsible mother, a school teacher, allow a boy with mental health issues access to firearms?
Second, I suggest that we begin to push a culture of grave responsibility surrounding the ownership, use, and storage of firearms. Firearms are a serious subject. Over the last 30 years I have personally witnessed hundreds of people behaving very cavalierly with firearms. It's this type of casual attitude that results in not taking firearms seriously. This leads to accidents, thefts, crimes and a host of other problems. Indeed, complacency around weapons can have terrible outcomes. Just look at the young boy who was killed by his father's "unloaded" gun in Pennsylvania last week.
We need to make the ownership and use of firearms a much more serious matter. If this was brought up and pushed by a large national organization with credibility among gun owners it might go a long way. Sadly, I don't see this happening.
Third, what is wrong with training? Personally, I believe in training, training and more training. The average person who buys a firearm takes it home and to the range a few times. They have no idea what the rules of firearms safety are. They are unaware of state or local laws on the safe storage and handling of firearms and ammunition. They don't see the weapon as something that needs to be treated seriously. They think of it as an inanimate object. Sadly, with an incompetent person holding on to it a gun becomes a grave concern. We need to make people WORK to possess weapons. If you want to drive a boat around you need to take a safe boater course. If you want to hunt you have to take a hunter education class. (In many states) If you want to drive a car, you need to pass a driving test. If you want to own an AR15 or any other firearm you'd better damn well know how to handle it. Why not a class?
I offer free 4 hour firearms safety courses through several local gun shops in my area because I would like people who buy guns to have at least a basic knowledge on how to safely handle firearms and ammunition. Also, I know if they take a 4 hour course with me they'll come back for a 12 hour course. Why not require firearms buyers to take a class and pass a competency test? I would suggest 20 hours including 12 hours of classroom time and 8 hours of range time. I know this will bring out those who say you'd be restricting a right via an intelligence test but frankly I don't see any option.
Fourth, safe storage is imperative. Several of the recent shooting incidents, including the Connecticut and Oregon shootings, have been perpetrated by individuals who obtained the firearms by stealing them from others. The safe and secure work storage of firearms is one of the fundamental rules of gun safety. In fact, storing firearms so that unauthorized individuals are able to obtain them is a crime in many states. It's very possible that if the firearms in these cases had been stored securely in locked containers or safes these events may never have happened.
Fifth, make the background check more stringent. Have some kind of tie in with a mental health database.
Sixth, make legal transfers limited to others who meet the same qualifications. This is a requirement for fully automatic firearms, short barreled shotguns, suppressors (silencers) and other destructive devices which are legal to own and shoot in most states. The paperwork is extensive and you have to purchase a federal tax stamp for each weapon at a cost of $200. Interestingly, since the National Firearms Act of 1934 only one legally owned weapon of this type has ever been used in a homicide out of roughly 200,000 in private possession. People who take the time to file, pay, get approved and purchase the weapon are required to keep it in a safe and to permit unannounced ATF inspections to insure they still have the weapon and are keeping it properly.
If we were to make semiautomatic rifles and shotguns that are capable of accepting detachable box magazines (think high-capacity) part of a revised National Firearms Act and require the same federal tax stamp we could insure that only those who were serious about ownership would pursue the process. Those who chose not to could either turn their guns in or have them purchased by the government for a fair price.
This would be a much more palatable, enforceable and financially feasible route than confiscation. Indeed, at $200 per weapon and a low-ball estimate of 20,000,000 firearms that would be eligible for a tax stamp you're looking at $4 billion dollars. That would be more than enough to pay for the additional ATF personnel who would be needed to administrate the increased volume.
1) Make safety and education a priority and push the serious nature of firearms, 2) Push the seriousness of and responsibility needed for the ownership of firearms, 3) Mandatory firearms instruction if you want to own a weapon, 4) A safe capable of storing them (a real 1,000 pound safe, not some sheet metal gun box from Wal-Mart), 5) An enhanced FBI background check, and finally, 6) Make semiautomatic rifles and shotguns part of a revised National Firearms Act and subject to the same restrictions as fully automatic weapons ("machine-guns"), etc. with no sales to people who haven’t met the same requirements.
In closing, deranged people will find ways to commit acts of violence no matter what. The Texas Tower shooter of 1966 left the following note for authorities after killing his mother and wife. Maybe we should take his advice:
"I imagine it appears that I brutally killed both of my loved ones. I was only trying to do a quick thorough job [...] If my life insurance policy is valid please pay off my debts [...] donate the rest anonymously to a mental health foundation. Maybe research can prevent further tragedies of this type."
The worst school killing in history which killed 45, including 38 children, and injured an additional 58 was committed with dynamite and firebombs 85 years ago this past spring. This is not to say that we shouldn't do something but rather that no matter what we do we will always have to deal with violence in society. It's up to us to say when we need to make a change for the better. I think the time is now.
Chris is a firearms instructor of 20 years and a regular contributor to TPC.